Album Review: Marco Polo – The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo

Marco Polo – The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo
Duck Down: 2010

Those who know me well can tell you all about my deep infatuation with the 1990s era of hip-hop music. Then again, those same people are most likely just as obsessed with that era — the burgeoning adolescence of a genre old enough to pick out its own clothes, but not quite old enough to vote. It was an era where the art found its collective voice and built upon the foundation laid by the Kool Hercs, Afrika Bambaataas and Melle Mels of the world. As free and jovial as the early 1980s were for hip-hop, the 1990s were just as carefree, except with more grit and a few more parental advisory stickers.

Somewhere along the way, however, that golden era eroded and many of us — now in our late twenties and early thirties — matured and transitioned into lives of car payments, marriage and mortgages. At least in my case, I fell out of love with hip-hop because it just wasn’t the same entity I once knew and adored. That’s why I couldn’t help but smile when listening to The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo, a 16-track firestorm in which Polo provides the soundscape for several popular and lesser known emcees to express their views on radio programming and lackluster artistry. Much of this recording is dedicated to raw, mind-bending, skill-sharpening lyricism, where battle rhymes are abundant and vinyl is scratched at a breakneck pace.

It’s not until Stupendous Adventures is almost complete that Surreal asks a pivotal question on “So Basic”. “What happened to that hip-hop that we used to love so much,” he asks upon the song’s introduction. “Wasn’t all [these] extracurricular things going on, it was all about the beats, the rhymes, the flow.” That track, punctuated by the dusty sounds of its upright bass and jazz piano, provides a framework for the emcee to ride the instrumental with extreme confidence and brutally honest bravado. Marco Polo’s compilation — the producer’s fourth overall release — teeters mostly between cocky “I’m better than you and I dare you to battle me” assurance and disgruntled musings about the rise of the skinny jeans, pastel-colored movement. At times, the emcees seemingly cling to the wonder years, as when the culture was new. “The Bridge”, a three-minute song where Promise promises to restore hip-hop, is an example of such a complaint.

Projects like The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo are needed occasionally to give disenchanted listeners something to embrace. It reminds them of the days when Michael Jordan soared through the skies and emcees could sell records based solely on their capabilities to shred instrumentals. Nowadays, not so much, but that’s not a bad thing. Movements are supposed to evolve, and I’m certain the pioneers of hip-hop said the same things about us some 19 years ago. With The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo, the producer and his cast of characters do a remarkable job of crafting a love letter to the ‘90s that is wildly nostalgic, yet sufficiently brooding and moody. If the era was the personification of hip-hop’s pubescence, then Polo’s Stupendous Adventures is the perfect reflection of such a restless and expressive moment in time.

★★★★☆
4 out 5

6 thoughts on “Album Review: Marco Polo – The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo

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  1. I can assure you that this is NOT to be viewed as an “album”, nor is it a follow up to Port Authority, this is a compilation cd featuring rare and unreleased songs recorded from 2005-2010, some of which either didn’t make the album projects that they were originally intended for, or were leaked on the internet but never got their chance to be heard on CD. This is something put out there as a collectors item for the fans, and to whet the appetite for PA2.

  2. I agree with Thomas on this. Especially in terms of it sounding like a compilation. Port Authority was pretty similar, but the tracks seemed to flow better, and the instrumentals were better overall (in my opinion).

  3. This album sounded like a compilation instead of an album. Maybe it’s suppose to be that…a compilation. Marco is good at that good ole’ boom bap, but this release doesn’t do it for me. The beats weren’t has “hard” as his collaborative albums with Torae and Rustee. Plus, this isn’t the best producer album this year. Apollo Brown, Statik Selektah, Dumhi, etc all released a better/cohesive product with superior beats/guest. IMO.

  4. Album was cool. I wished I liked it more though. Something about it never got me attached.

  5. It’s okay to say that you fell out of love with the music. And it’s okay to say you weren’t around when certain records came out. But I don’t think it’s okay for anyone to act like this sound of rap disappeared. This album’s dope and there’s a lot of braggadocia on it but, I think that’s the kind of raps Marco attracts.

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